Preposterous Universe

Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Cynical thought experiments

Daniel Drezner looks at Russia and Pakistan and wonders whether the Bush administration isn't really committed to democracy-promotion after all.

Notwithstanding my political leanings and well-documented opinions about the President, I really do try (like John Rawls with his philosophical predecessors) to give people the benefit of the doubt, imagining that their hearts are in the right place even if perhaps we differ on certain particulars of strategy. And I make a good-faith effort to steer away from the far fringes of cynicism and paranoia. (Readers are welcome to comment on my success.)

But the following thought experiment occurred to me: Imagine that we were governed by an administration that was truly driven by absolutely nothing other than a desire to increase the wealth of the very wealthiest Americans. They don't care about democracy, terrorism, other countries, any of that. Perhaps they give lip service to such goals as a way of promoting their central agenda, but only for reasons of practical politics. Just imagine how they would act.

Now that you've finished imagining -- is there way in which the actions of such an administration would be incompatible with the acts of the actual administration currently in power? Any way at all? (I'm open to the possibility that there are, let me know if there's something obvious that I'm missing.)

For extra credit, discuss the conclusions that would be drawn from this thought experiment by a Comtean positivist, a Machiavellian realist, a Deweyan pragmatist, and a Popperian natural scientist.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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